11:06 JST, October 15, 2022
AWAJI, Hyogo — What if you could enjoy a “Dragon Quest” adventure in real life? Dragon Quest Island, a theme park on Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture offers visitors just such an opportunity to tramp through a physical version of the popular game series.
Statues of characters from the games, including one of its adorable slime monster, dot the park, which bustles with fans and families. But what does “Dragon Quest” have to do with Awaji Island, known for its onions?
I took a trip to the island with a sense of the adventurer in my heart, recalling my elementary school days when I grew obsessed with this series that puts you in control of its heroes.
Dragon Quest Island is not an island but a popular theme park located in the amusement park Nijigen no Mori (2D forest), where visitors can experience real-life versions of manga and anime. Nijigen no Mori is in turn part of Hyogo Prefectural Awaji Island Park on the northern part of Awaji Island.
At Dragon Quest Island, the old European-style castles and ick cityscapes depicted in the games are re-created within an 8,000-square-meter facility. A giant smiling slime statue greets visitors at the entrance.
The atmosphere ought me back to the excitement I used to feel before starting a game.
The park’s experience is premised on a group of four adventurers setting out to save the world from a great demon king. Visitors choose to play as either a warrior, a mage, a thief or a martial artist. I chose the warrior and received a coin-shaped “adventurer’s mark.” This was an IC tag that records the data of the other three players and their progress in the adventure, and allows you to take your adventure solo.
Once in the castle town, you will find inns and weapons shops, made yet more atmospheric by the piping in of the game’s nostalgic background music. The houses are decorated with shields and pikes, treasure chests and pots, and it feels as if you have entered into that 2D world.
I touched the monitors installed on rocks and walls with my IC tag, and a request from the soldiers and citizens appearing on the screen started off the adventure.
In the park’s forest area, enemies appear on screens, and you can enjoy “fighting” unique monsters specially designed for Awaji Island, such as an “onion slime.”
The adventure also has a puzzle-solving aspect, and the park staff, dressed as fortune-tellers, will give you hints if you ask.
“The puzzle-solving was fun,” said a 9-year-old girl from Aichi Prefecture. “I’ve never played the games before, but now I like ‘Dragon Quest.’”
Strong ties to Awaji
Since the release of its first title in 1986, the “Dragon Quest” series has seen more than 84 million shipments and downloads worldwide, including related titles.
The series bears strong ties to Awaji Island because on it sits the hometown of Yuji Horii, the designer of “Dragon Quest.”
With the help of Horii, Dragon Quest Island opened in May 2021, the 35th anniversary of the series’ initial release. This was the fourth attraction in Nijigen no Mori.
As the world’s first permanent outdoor attraction with a “Dragon Quest” theme, it has sparked interest during the COVID-19 pandemic since visitors don’t have to worry about poor indoor ventilation and can easily social distance. The entire prefectural park, including Dragon Quest Island, recorded 750,000 visitors in the year through this March, somewhat higher than the pre-pandemic figure of 740,000 three years earlier.
Monument with handprint
Horii hails from Sumoto, a city in the middle part of the island, which also features a “Dragon Quest” photo spot. Fans come to take pictures at a 2-meter-tall statue representing the sword and shield of Roto — the legendary weapon and armor used in the games — and a slime monster. The statue was installed by the city government in a civic plaza on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the series’ initial release, and has Horii’s handprint engraved on the reverse.
Horii, 68, expressed his joy over more visitors coming to his home island out of their love of “Dragon Quest.”
“I’m happy to be able to give something back to my beloved island of Awaji,” he said.
“It makes me happy to see children running around at the attractions saying, ‘I found a medal!’ I hope that people will enjoy the adventure at the park by fully immersing themselves in their role as the main characters of the games.”
Maybe next time I will try my luck at being a mage.
Extend your trip
According to a myth described in the “Kojiki,” the oldest extant chronicle of Japanese history, the islands of Japan, including Honshu, were created by two deities, or more specifically, were born as children from their act of procreation. Awaji Island was the very first island to be born. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto, the pair of deities.
A large camphor tree, now some 900 years old, stands in the precincts of the shrine. As it is actually composed of two intertwined trees, the giant tree has come to symbolize a husband and wife.
How to get there
Dragon Quest Island is about 5 minutes by car from the Awaji Interchange on the Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway. Visitors can use parking lot F at Nijigen no Mori for free. The admission fee depends on the season, with the lowest rate being ¥3,400 for ages 12 and older and ¥1,400 for ages 5 to 11. The monument in Sumoto is a 15-minute drive from the Sumoto Interchange. Izanagi Jingu shrine is a 5-minute drive from the Tsuna-Ichinomiya Interchange.